Durkheim’s Four Types of Suicide

Emile Durkheim applied the scientific method to a study of suicide in the United States. Using this objective approach he separated all suicides into one of four categories: altruistic, egoistic, anomic, and fatalistic.

Durkheim defined suicides that were done for the cause of a group (i.e. cult or resistance movement) as altruistic suicides. These individuals are so integrated into the group that they view their own lives as less important than the welfare of the group. Egoistic suicide is the extreme opposite of altruistic suicide. These are the people that are lacking in any sort of group identity or the support that this would give them. Seeing no way to make it through life alone, they take their own lives. Anomic suicides are suicides that result from a lack of stability. Extreme circumstances make life unpredictable and society no longer gives meaning to their lives. Fatalistic suicides are committed because there is too much regulation or stability. Feeling trapped in an unchanging ordered existence, some see no point in living.

While Durkheim’s conclusion is very logical and intuitive, I think that his quantitative methods are a little too removed to form accurate theories about the motivations behind all suicides. I think that a more personal approach (i.e. interviewing) would lead to more accurate detailed findings. However the nature of the subject in question presents a huge obstacle to this method. If someone is alive then one cannot be sure if they are just depressed or if they are really going to commit suicide (not to mention any ethical obligation to try and help someone considering taking their own life) and if someone has committed suicide they obviously can’t be interviewed. In my limited experience with friends and loved ones who have seriously considered suicide I cannot say that I could classify their motivation (as far as I could tell) in any of Durkheim’s aforementioned categories. I suppose my greatest objection to his conclusion is that it is a rather callous approach to this subject and I do not see any value in trying to separate those that have taken their lives into four generalized groups.

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